Mar 28

Don’t panic over Honeycomb’s release delay

Google’s announced plans to delay the public release of the source code for Honeycomb, the tablet version of Android, are causing some indignation to be vented among the partisans of open source. But should it? This is a good time to reflect on what the freedoms guaranteed by the Open Source Definition actually mean and what they’re for.

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Mar 25

Bookend consistency

I’ve been thinking recently about writing a shared-memory export for gpsd. The JSON-over-sockets client interface we have is very powerful and flexible, but more than is needed when network access to the server is not required. For embedded deployments, in particular – it would be useful to have a lower-overhead way of shipping results to clients.

Consequently, I’ve been thinking about coherence techniques for shared memory. In this particular case, we have one writer (gpsd) and multiple readers (the application clients). Updates to the shared-memory segment are long enough that writes aren’t guaranteed atomicity. It is permissible for a client to miss an update if it’s not inspecting the segment frequently enough, but required that after a read from the segment the client can always tell when it has a coherent update (as opposed to having read the segment while a write is in progress).

The obvious way to ensure update coherence would be with a semaphore. But a technique that is non-blocking and wait-free would be preferable. I have invented a method I call “bookend consistency”. I present it here for public critique, also because I’m curious whether any of my commenters can identify it with a known, published algorithm. It was inspired by a vague, distant memory of pioneering work by Butler Lampson on lock-free algorithms.

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Mar 21

Naked Women With Guns

(No, that is not the ultimate Armed & Dangerous post title. The ultimate Armed & Dangerous post title would be Naked Women With Guns Smash The State!.)

A few nights ago I was on IRC with a friend I shall refer to as ‘H’ who may, if she wishes, identify herself in a comment, discussing rape statistics; she had been a post-rape counselor and I thought she would have a useful on-the-ground perspective. H shared my evaluation that the rape statistics I reported are seriously inflated by definitional flimflam, but that’s not our topic this evening. This post is, instead, stimulated (as it were) by her thoughts on the subject of pornography.

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Mar 17

The bug that didn’t bite in the night-time: an anti-disaster story

A very curious thing happened with GPSD this week. In fact it’s so odd I’m still having trouble believing it. In software engineering we often have trouble getting seemingly simple things to work reliably. How does one react when an incredibly complex, fragile piece of bit-twiddling code works – perfectly – after six years without real-world testing, during which the surrounding architecture underwent such massive changes that any rational person would have expected the feature to bit-rot into garbage?

No, really, this one is weird. Let me unfold to you the strange tale of The RTCM2 Analyzer That Shouldn’t Have Worked. Really. At All.

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Mar 13

Politics as usual is over

A number of my regulars have asked me why I don’t blog about politics as much as I used to.

Fundamentally, it’s because I think the value of political persuasion is decreasing fast. Political persuasion matters most when when policy options are relatively open and unconstrained by objective conditions that politics cannot alter. It matters less when policy options are more constrained, and not at all when there are no choices left.

The political system I have been criticizing all my adult life is fast approaching the point of “no choices left”. And not just in the U.S., either; the same problems of political overcommitment and structural insolvency are playing out in advanced nations all over the planet.

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Mar 10

Religious toxicity

Earlier today I stumbled over some accusations that atheists are lining up with Islam because their actual enemy is not religion but Christianity.

The actual revelation here is that the fever-swamps of the left are capable of generating unlimited amounts of nonsense and putting it on protest signs. And, that conservatives are still prone to respond with a kind of reflexive bigotry that undermines them even when they have valid points to make.

I’m one of those “militant atheists” Tatler and Publius Forum are ranting about. My position is slightly complicated by the fact that I’m also a neopagan mystic – but the sort of “religion” I practice is nontheistic and fully compatible with philosophical atheism. This is not as unusual as one might think: many neopagans and Buddhists could say the same.

In hopes that some conservatives might actually pay attention, I will now explain how “militant atheists” evaluate different religions and why Islam is actually the least likely of them to attract or seduce atheists. The model I’m about to convey is explicitly shared by one of the major “New Atheist” writers – Sam Harris – and I am in little doubt that the others in that group (notably Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett) would broadly approve of it.

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Mar 06

Rape statistics: a case study in public flim-flam

A commenter on a recent thread claimed “the lifetime risk of rape for a woman [in the U.S.] is one in six…Almost everyone who deals with the issue considers that wildly too low to be realistic. But one in six is indisputable.”

No incidence of rape above zero is acceptable to me. I teach women pistol self-defense at no charge. You may correctly infer my motives from the fact that the first time a female student of mine shoots a good tight center-of-mass group, my normal mode of expressing approval is to say “That’s one dead rapist!”

Accordingly, I found this claim so disturbing that I decided to research it. What I found appears to be a classic case of unreliable statistics being oversimplified through rumor, hysteria, the telephone effect, and self-serving inflation.

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Mar 05

Facing your inner alpha

There’s been some discussion in response to my post on A natural contemplates game on the meaning of the term “alpha male” as it applies to humans. In comments, I had this to say as a definition:

As I use “alpha”, it simply means someone who is equipped for leadership roles by psychology and temperament. You can tell you are one if your experience of life frequently includes being sucked into leadership vacuums. It’s not about having some sort of dark desire to dominate people, though of course there’s a subset of alphas that has that.

In the PUA context, “alpha” has the additional overlapping meaning of someone who has high hypergamic value to women. These two traits tend to be correlated and to reinforce each other.

I also noted this:

I don’t really know what makes alphas; I wasn’t always one myself, formerly having been what another commenter describes as a sigma [strong loner type, resistant to being in hierarchies]. In fact, for personal values reasons I denied to myself that I was an alpha until long after a third-party observer would have said so, facing the reality only when my pattern of constantly being sucked into leadership vacuums became undeniable.

I will further note that alphaness is not altogether a happy trait to have. The getting more sex part is nice, but the constant “somebody has to do it” presented by the leadership vacuums around you can be a serious pain in the ass. Especially if, like me, you have values conflicts about being an authority figure.


..there was never a lot of “reaching out” involved on my part. The damn leadership roles reached out and grabbed me. Once I realized I was stuck with them, I just tried to handle the job as competently as I could.

I’m not sure what else to tell you, except that I still think people who crave leadership roles are not to be trusted. The reason I denied I was an alpha for a long time is that I had some confusion in my head between the sort of person who wants to run things and the kind of person who can’t help doing it.

Now I will tell a story about one of the incidents that forced me to face my inner alpha.

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Mar 03

A natural contemplates game

Slang dictionaries never fail to interest me. A few days ago I ran across one serving the PUA (pick-up artist) subculture, a network of men (and a few women) who have attempted to systematize and explain tactics for picking up women. Chasing links from it, I found a network of blogs and sites describing what they call “game”, which has evolved beyond mere tactics into a generative theory of why the tactics work; indeed in some hands (such as the ferociously intelligent PUA blogger Roissy) it seems to be aspiring to the condition of philosophy.

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